When is the best time to visit Japan?
Spring (February, March, April) is often seen as the best time to visit Japan, and understandably so. Each year the cherry blossoms put on a stunning show that attracts thousands of tourists and locals alike. But let’s not forget the abundance of incredible experiences Japan has to offer at other times in the year, including the pristine white snowy mountains in winter, the rich red autumn foliage (or koyo) in autumn, and the stunning and colourful flower fields in summer.
So when should you (and shouldn’t you) visit Japan? Below I have broken down each of the seasons, as well as outlined the Japanese holidays to avoid to ensure you get the most out of your trip to Japan.
Spring and Cherry Blossoms
If you are planning to travel to Japan to see the cherry blossoms, the best thing to do would be to track their blooming schedule here. Cherry blossoms begin to bloom in the south-west of Japan in Okinawa in January and gradually moves north to finally bloom in the very north-east of Japan in Hokkaido in late April. Cherry blossom trees reach full bloom (mankai) about a week after the first blossoms emerge (kaika), and the petals begin to fall between 3 days to a week after full bloom (depending on the severity of the weather).
As there is such a short window to see the blossoms in full bloom, it is important to keep track of the blooming schedule right up until you plan to see them. Japan goes into a country-wide cherry blossom fever during the season, so it is also a good idea to make sure you prepare for large crowds and be aware of what day the hanami festival is going to be held. Attending a hanami festival will be the best way to see the blossoms at full bloom and will be a fantastic experience, however, it is also the time when cherry blossom viewing is at its highest, and the crowds are immense.
Winter and Snow
Japan is known for having some of the best ski fields in the world; the most famous of which being in its northernmost prefecture, Hokkaido. Snow begins to fall in November and ends in April, with peak season going from early January to late February.
There are countless incredible ski resorts to choose from throughout Japan. They can be found in the northern and middle prefectures, including Nagano, Niigata, Gunma, Ishikawa, Iwate, Yamagata and of course Hokkaido.
As a large portion of the world is on holidays during late December/early January, this is an extremely busy time for Japan’s ski fields, no matter where you go. Japan is a very popular destination for Australian snow-lovers especially, so you’ll find that some go-to ski resorts turn into a mini Australia for the month of January!
Popular tourist destinations such as Niseko, Hakuba and Rusutsu start to calm down as February draws closer, so try to visit during this time. You also have the added bonus of attending the Sapporo Snow Festival in early February, which is a definite must see while you are visiting – the sculptures are absolutely incredible!
November and Autumn Foliage (Koyo)
Starting from late September, the autumn foliage begins to appear; starting in Hokkaido, northern parts of Chubu, Tohoku and Chugoku, then in Shikoku, Kyushu and Kansai by November, and finally southern Chubu and Kanto in late November/early December. The earlier the cold begins to surface, the sooner the foliage appears, so make sure to track when they are expected to appear. The peak-viewing season is thankfully longer than cherry blossom season, spanning two weeks to a month.
For those of you confused as to why summer doesn’t get a mention, Japan’s summer is very hot and humid, making it an unpopular time to travel. It also coincides with the rainy season, which lasts from early June to mid-July.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom! Hokkaido is a fantastic place to spend your summer, as it has a cooler climate to the rest of the country and is not affected by the rainy season. Summer is also the best time to witness the blooming of the stunning flower fields in Furano, where you will be able to see gorgeous fields of lavender, blue salvia, poppies, sunflowers and cosmos.
It is also worth noting when the Japanese holidays are to make sure that you steer clear of domestic travellers. Japan celebrates New Year’s Day on January 1, and as such will be on holidays from about December 29 to January 6 (depending on where the weekend falls). Trains, airports and roads are high traffic areas during this time, and a lot of businesses shut down for the holidays. If you are planning to sightsee between December 29 and January 4, make sure you do your research, as most restaurants, attractions, and stores are closed for at least some days during this time.
The next major holiday in Japan is Golden Week, taking place from the end of April to the beginning of May. The week consists of four national holidays, starting with Shōwa Day (the birthday of former Emperor Shōwa), Constitution Day (Kenpō kinenbi, marking the day the new postwar constitution was put in place in 1947), Greenery Day (Midori no hi, a day to celebrate nature) and Children’s Day (Kodomo no hi).
The last of the three main holiday periods in Japan is the Obon festival in mid-August. This Buddhist holiday is a tribute to one’s ancestors, where it is believed that the deceased will return to earth and visit their family members. To guide their way, lanterns are lit outside of homes and are then placed in rivers to guide their ancestors’ spirits back to the underworld. Commonly, this festival takes place from August 13 – 15, but is also celebrated in July in some areas of Japan.
When are you planning to visit Japan? Make sure to let me know in the comments below!
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